Last Sunday in End Times – Christ the King Sunday
Jesus is the King of the Jews
1. He is a king that the world does not recognize
2. He is a king that takes us to paradise
Sermon Text: Luke 23:35-43
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord;
In the sequence of events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, from his betrayal by Judas in the garden with a kiss, from the kangaroo court before the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, to his unjust condemnation by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, to the Roman soldiers who rolled the dice for Jesus’ clothing, it seemed that nothing went right in the divine tragedy played out that day. But finally as the sequence of events which ended in Jesus’ death came to its conclusion, there was one thing that Pilate did get right: That was the message which he caused to be posted on top of the cross. In three languages it read, "This is the king of the Jews." Another Gospel account tells us that when the leaders of the Jews protested, requesting that Pilate change the words to read that Jesus said he was the king of the Jews. Finally, Pilate found a spine. His response to them was, "What I have written, I have written."
Pilate may have written this sign to ridicule the Jewish leaders but in doing so he made a bold statement. Without knowing it Pilate told all who were present at the crucifixion that Jesus is the King of the Jews. He is a king the world does not recognize and he is a king that takes us to paradise.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday celebrated in our church year. This is the day where we celebrate the fact that Jesus is our king. He is the ultimate king. He is far above any human authorities, far above any of the other heavenly beings. He rules this universe in an awesome way. But He rules in such an understated way and his time spent on this earth was such a humble act of service that many are unable to or refuse to accept Jesus as their king. Our text today is a perfect example of this.
As Jesus was dying on the cross St. Luke tells us, “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
The people did not recognize Jesus as their King sent by God. They mocked and insulted him. They challenged him to come down from the cross if he is the Christ, God’s chosen one.
God promised long ago that he would send his people a king who would redeem them. In our Old Testament lesson for today we hear one of God’s promises regarding the king he would send. Jeremiah the prophet writes, “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.”
God’s promise was fulfilled in the bloodied and beaten man that was hanging on the cross but the people did not recognize Jesus as the chosen one of God.
The Roman soldiers and the one of the criminals crucified with him did not recognize Jesus as their king. The joined in with the crowd and mocked Jesus. The Roman soldiers said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” And the criminal said, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
If there ever was a king that the world did not recognize, it was Jesus. To be treated and convicted like the worst of criminals! To receive the most extreme punishment given out by the government of that day! To have the very people you came to save stand in front of you and hurl insults at you. A true king would never be treated like this.
To the eyes of the unbelieving world there was no way that Jesus was the king that they were waiting for. How could this beaten man be the king of the Jews? St Mark tells us that the leaders of the people wanted proof that Jesus was their king. The chief priests and leaders of the people said, “Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
In their stubborn unbelief the people could not see that by their own words they were proving that Jesus was the promised king sent by God. They could not see that by suffering and dying on the cross Jesus was doing what the Christ, the Chosen One was sent here to do. They forgot the words of Isaiah the prophet who said, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The people looked for a king with a crown on his head. Jesus did not have a crown of gold around his brow. Crowning this kingly head is a twisted band of cruel thorns mashed down into his scalp and shredding his skin. The people wanted a king seated on a gold-covered, jewel-decorated high and lofty throne. The throne that lifts this king above his subjects is the cross to which he is nailed.
Jesus came into this world to take our sins upon himself and to pay the penalty for those sins. This was God’s will that Jesus suffer instead of us. God in his mercy sent his Son to die on Calvary’s cross so that we would no longer be ruled by Satan. Because Jesus suffered and poured out his blood for you and me, all of our sins have been washed away.
The picture that St. Luke paints for us today is a scene that we are not accustomed to. The picture that comes to mind when you think of a king is quite different than the picture of the king of kings suffering and dying on the cross. Kings normally rule their subjects from the throne. There are very few kings in history that have led their people into battle. The usual practice is to send generals into battle so that the king will not be at risk. But Jesus did just the opposite. Our king went into battle with Satan and defeated him by sacrificing his own life instead of ours. Jesus by dying on the cross proved himself to be the king of the Jews and our king as well. He is a king that takes us to his kingdom. He is a king that takes us to paradise.
Not all the people around Jesus that day failed to see the king that was dying for them, or at least remained in their unbelief. There was one there that started out as an unbeliever, but we see a drastic change take effect in one of the criminals that were crucified with Jesus.
St. Matthew recorded the events of this day and he tells us that the criminals- meaning both men- heaped insults on Jesus. St. Matthew writes, “In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”
This nameless man who hung on a cross next to Jesus is called a thief or a robber by both Matthew and Mark and simply a criminal by Luke. His crimes were evidently not small and inconsequential but big and serious, judging from the fact that he was being crucified for them.
But although this dying thief was a notorious sinner, he was also, by the grace of God, a repentant sinner; that is evident from his confession. Although he too at first joined the other criminal in mocking Jesus, he had a change of heart. When his partner in crime once again started to mock and blaspheme Jesus, Luke tells us that he rebuked him sharply, confessed his sins without any hedging or excuse, and testified to the innocence of Jesus The man said, “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
By the grace and mercy of God, the Holy Spirit brought him to a true knowledge of his sins and of the just punishment he deserved. But he had not only come to know his sins but also to know his Savior. To be sure, he had not been with Jesus very long, only a few hours, but it was long enough. He watched him suffer patiently and heard him pray for forgiveness for his executioners. He listened to the mocking words of those who passed by the cross and of the Jewish leaders who stood under it gloating. The thief clearly understood from Jesus’ words that he was not suffering for any crime he had done. Jesus was on a cross simply because he claimed to be the promised Messiah and the Son of God.
The thief saw the sign over the cross, which was a sermon in itself: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” And through it all the Holy Spirit led him to recognize and to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the King of the Jews, the promised Messiah, Son of God and long-awaited Savior-King, who had come in the fullness of time to die for the sins of the world. And in such God-given faith, he asked Jesus to remember him when he was in his kingdom. He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
How did the Savior respond to the criminals plea? Just as we would expect a merciful Savior to respond. He heard him and gave him even more than he asked for. He had asked to be remembered and Jesus assured him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
What a precious promise Jesus gave to this dying thief. It assured him of forgiveness for all his sins, black and ugly though they were. It assured him of eternal life in heaven without any merits or works or doing on his part of any kind but solely by the free grace of a gracious God. It gave that thief real comfort in his last hours of life and sure hope in the face of death.
We also have the same hope and comfort. God tells us that all who believe in his Son will have everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven. God tells us that Jesus is our Savior and King too. He was wounded and bruised for us, he took our place and bore the sins of the world, he suffered our punishment and he paid our debt to God in full. Jesus blood atoned for the sins of the world, and that includes each and every one of your sins and all of mine. He opened the gates of paradise not only for the dying thief but also for you and me. Through faith in Christ all that he accomplished is ours.
I said at the beginning of the sermon that this one thing Pontius Pilate got right when he posted above the cross the message, "This is the king of the Jews," but I have to qualify that somewhat, because the truth is, he didn’t have it totally right. You know that Jesus isn’t only king of the Jews. Jesus is the king of all people. Take comfort in knowing this. Our king has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He promises that he will control all things for our good. And he gives us the same promise that he gave to the thief hanging next to him. Our king promises and tells us, "You will be with me in paradise." Amen.